How to tell a good story

This week I’m working on my fourth project in the Toastmasters Humorously Speaking manual.  I’ve been stuck on the fourth project because it requires you to write at least two joke set consisting of two or three jokes.  Today, I went through the entire manual during my 750 words and took notes from each of the lessons.  There is some good advice that I’m going to write posts about in the coming weeks.

One of the pieces of advice was the five parts to every humorous story. Below I’ve listed the five parts of a story from the Toastmasters manual. Here is the example story from the Toastmasters manual:

A young illiterate man applied for a job as a janitor.  When the personnel manager discovered the young man couldn’t read or write, he didn’t hire him. Desperate for work, the young man borrowed some money from his uncle and started selling fruit on a busy street corner.  His business grew, and he soon owned a chain of markets and became very rich.  One day he went to the bank to deposit some money.  As he signed an “x” on the deposit slip, the bank manager said, “You have done so well with no education.  Just think what you could have done if you had gone to school!” “Oh,” replied the man, “I’d be a janitor.”

Most stories consist of these five parts:

1. Set-up

The information the listener needs to find the joke funny.  It leads the listeners down a path to an unexpected destination. The information about the young man’s job search is the set up.

2. Pause

Occurs just before you deliver the punch line to the joke.  By pausing, you create tension in the audience.  The pause also signals your audience that you are about to say something important.

3. Punch line

The phrase or sentence that creates the humor.  It’s unexpected destination at the end of the path.  The punch line is a surprise twist and the payoff to the entire story.  It’s what makes people laugh.  In the janitor story, the punch line is “Oh, ” replied the young man, “I’d be a janitor.”

4. Punch word

The one word in the punch line which creates the humor. “Janitor” is the punch word in the above story.

5. Pause

The end of the story gives the audience an opportunity to absorb the punch line, see the humor, and respond.

Nothing is worse than when the storyteller forgets the punch line.

I know a person who tells long stories but they never have a punch line.  They usually just end.  It drives us all crazy because everyone is waiting for the punch line.  When it doesn’t come, we all groan. This happens so often we’ve started referring to these types of stories that don’t have a punch line as a [insert person’s name] story.

Whenever your crafting a story for your speeches or when you’re telling one in any social setting, make sure the story has all five parts. You don’t want to be the person telling stories without a punch line.